• February 15, 2011
  • News & Analysis
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Escaped the LRA, but still “Too Far From Home”

Have you ever had the nightmare where you know you need to get home and you can’t figure out how to get there?  This nightmare is almost certainly a reality for many of the people abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and forced into its ranks.

One of the crucial elements of President Obama’s strategy to end atrocities committed by the LRA is encouraging the Map of LRA Affected Areasescape, disarmament, and reintegration of people abducted by the LRA.  In a paper entitled “Too Far From Home” released today by the Enough Project, Field Researcher Ledio Cakaj, examines the challenges related to this issue of demobilizing, disarming and reintegrating members of the LRA.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel with Ledio to LRA-affected areas in central Africa before, and always look forward to his reports. This particular report is based on interviews with former LRA combatants and provides insight into why fighters leave the ranks, the risks and challenges they face in doing so, and the ways in which the government of Uganda and the international community can encourage defections.

Disillusioned by his recent experiences in the LRA, one former combatant who escaped in Sudan said: “Kony lied to us when he said we were fighting for the rights of our people in Uganda. We were too far from home.” Facing forced recruitment in the army, fearing retribution from community members they were forced to attack when in the LRA, and lacking economic opportunities, people formerly with the LRA remain “far from home” even when they are physically in Uganda.

LRA fighters attempting to leave the rebellion face several risks and challenges. First, fighters trying to escape will be beaten or killed if caught by LRA commanders. Once outside of the reach of their commanders, former LRA risk being lynched by the local populations of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and the Central African Republic as well as being mistreated by the regional armies. Although an amnesty law exists in Uganda that requires the government to grant amnesty to former LRA combatants, it has refused during the past year to grant amnesty certificates and provide reintegration packages. The Ugandan army often holds the former LRA it captures in custody for several months and coerces them to join the army with no training and no salary. Finally, former members of the LRA are uncertain about how they will be received upon returning home. “‘I was forced to kill my neighbors in front of everyone else,’ one former fighter who had been with the LRA for 13 years told Ledio. ‘How can I go back?’”

Read the full report to learn of its recommendations to support the defection of LRA fighters. These include key initiatives the Ugandan government should undertake in order to make return more appealing such as ceasing to manipulate former fighters into joining the Ugandan forces, reinstituting the distribution of certificates of amnesty and reintegration packages, and developing a demobilization strategy.

— Paul

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